5 Bangladeshi Extremists Sentenced to Death for Killing Secular Blogger Avijit Roy

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Dhaka
2021-02-16
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5 Bangladeshi Extremists Sentenced to Death for Killing Secular Blogger Avijit Roy Police escort one of the men sentenced to death for the February 2015 murder of Avijit Roy, a secular Bangladesh-American blogger, in Dhaka, Feb. 16, 2021.
AFP

Updated at 1:15 p.m. ET on 2021-02-16

A tribunal here convicted and condemned five Islamic militants to death Tuesday for the 2015 murder of Bangladeshi-American secular blogger Avijit Roy, but his wife said the verdict did not give her closure and the roots of such violence needed to be investigated.

The capital sentence by an anti-terrorism tribunal was the second one it handed down in less than a week against members of an al-Qaeda-linked militant group blamed for machete-killings of secular intellectuals in the South Asian country, particularly in 2015 and 2016.  

In Tuesday’s courtroom action, a sixth defendant got life in prison for issuing a death threat to Roy over his writings against religious extremism, and for provoking the machete-killing, which took place in Dhaka on Feb. 26, 2015.

Mojibur Rahman, the tribunal judge who last Wednesday sentenced eight convicts to death for the October 2015 murder of Faisal Arefin Dipan, the publisher of Roy’s writings, said Roy’s murder was intended to discourage free speech. 

“It was a premeditated murder. The banned outfit Ansar al-Islam’s members, including the accused persons, killed Avijit Roy, and branded him an atheist,” Rahman said in a statement before the verdict.

He was referring to the militant group linked with al-Qaeda that Bangladeshi authorities had held responsible for killing secular bloggers, writers, publishers, gay rights activists and others.

“Avijit Roy paid the price with his life for independent writing and freedom of expression. The motive for killing Avijit Roy was to discourage and curtail freedom of speech by disrupting public security,” the judge said.

“These accused persons do not deserve mercy.”

Rahman delivered the guilty verdict and sentence in a packed court room amid tight police protection.

Four of the six defendants were present. They wore bulletproof vests and helmets.

They were Abu Siddique Sohel, Mozammel Hussain, Arafat Hossain, and Shafiur Rahman Farabi, public prosecutor Syed Golam Sarwar Zakir told BenarNews.

Farabi, an extremist blogger, was sentenced to life in prison for sending a death threat to Roy via Facebook, but he did not participate directly in the killing, the prosecutor said.

Two other convicts – Akram Hossain and former major Syed Ziaul Haque, the alleged chief of Ansar al-Islam – were said to be on the run. The government banned Ansar al-Islam in May 2015.

Hossain took part in hacking Roy to death, while Ziaul Haque planned the murder, the prosecutor said.

The court ordered the police to find and arrest the two. However in 2019, investigators told BenarNews that they were unsure whether the notorious “Major Zia” – who was blamed for multiple terror attacks in the country – was still alive.

Of the men convicted on Tuesday, Ziaul Haque, Akram Hossain, Abu Siddique Sohel and Mozammel Hussain were convicted and sentenced to death on Feb. 10 as well, for killing Dipan, Roy’s publisher.

Khairul Islam Liton, a defense counsel, said his team was “aggrieved” by Tuesday’s verdict and would appeal against it in the High Court.

“The investigation officer has not been able to produce any witnesses. At the same time, the prosecution has also failed to prove that the convicted persons belonged to the banned militant outfit Ansar al-Islam,” Liton told BenarNews.

Liton, who was defense counsel for the convicts in Dipan’s case, had also said he planned to appeal that verdict.

According to Bangladesh law, convicts have the right to appeal at the High Court, and then the Supreme Court. If both appeals are rejected and the president declines to pardon them, the convicts will then be executed.

‘Verdict will not bring peace to my family’

Roy lived in the United States with his wife. He came to Bangladesh to attend Dhaka’s annual Ekushey Book Fair in February 2015, despite repeated online death threats against him.

On the evening of Feb. 26, machete-wielding men attacked Roy and his wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonya, as the couple was leaving the campus of Dhaka University – the venue for the literary festival.

The assailants hacked Roy to death. Bonya survived the attack but was seriously injured.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Bonya said she never expected that the verdict would bring closure for her and her family.

“Simply prosecuting a few foot soldiers – and ignoring the rise and roots of extremism –   does not mean justice for Avi’s death, nor for the deaths of the ‘bloggers, publishers and homosexuals’ before and after him as part of the serial killings,” Bonya said.

“That’s why this verdict will not bring peace to my family or theirs.”

Bonya claimed that Bangladesh’s government and the prosecution did not contact her during the years of investigation into the attack.

“In six years, not one person investigating the case in Bangladesh reached out to me – though I am a direct witness and victim of the attack,” she said.

“In January, the state lawyer in the case publicly lied, saying that I did not agree to be a witness in the trial. The truth is, no one from Bangladesh’s government or the prosecution has ever contacted me.”

Public prosecutor Zakir said the prosecution did try to contact Bonya via the mail.

“We sent letters to Bonya’s address mentioned in the charge sheet. But she did not appear,” Zakir told BenarNews.

Bonya also alleged that the Bangladesh government had become more autocratic since the attack that claimed her husband’s life.

“Freedom of speech has been restricted further, secular writers, bloggers, activists were forced to leave the country during and after 2015, a harsher Digital Security Act has been enacted, bloggers, writers, publishers have been persecuted for their writings on a regular basis,” Bonya said.

“Bangladesh’s Prime Minister is increasingly friendly with Hefazat-e-Islam, the Islamist group of madrassa teachers and students that demanded ‘the heads’ of secular writers and bloggers in 2014.”

Bonya was referring to Bangladesh’s most powerful faith-based hardline organization, which in May 2013 organized a massive rally in Dhaka demanding the introduction of Sharia law, including a blasphemy law with a proviso to execute secular bloggers and those who defame Islam.

The rally followed the brutal slaying in February 2013 of secular blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider.

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